Questions in French grammar

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Types of questions in French grammar

Interrogative clauses (une phrase interrogative) are questions. In French, there are three types of questions:

  • intonation questions
  • questions with est-ce que
  • questions with inverted word order

We also differentiate between yes-no questions (l’interrogation totale) and question-word questions (l’interrogation partielle).

Learn how to ask questions in French with our easy overview, then test out your new knowledge in the free exercises.


- Bonjour Julie! Comment vas-tu ?
- Bien, merci! Je vais au cinéma.
- Qu’est-ce que tu vas voir ?
- Un film d’action. Tu aimes aller au cinéma ?
- Beaucoup ! Est-ce que je peux venir avec toi ?
- Si tu veux. Veux-tu acheter du pop-corn ?

Intonation Questions

The simplest kind of question is an intonation question. The word order doesn’t change — we keep the subject – verb – object order the same as in a declarative sentence. The only difference is the rising intonation, which shows that it’s a question.

Tu aimes aller au cinéma. → Tu aimes aller au cinéma ?(Do) You like going to the cinema?

Questions with est-ce que

Questions with est-ce que are mostly used in spoken language. After est-ce que, the sentence keeps its regular form (subject – verb – object). These kinds of questions can be constructed with or without question words.

  • without a question word
Est-ce que je peux venir avec toi ?Can I come with you?
  • with a question word
Preposition Question Word est-ce que Subject Verb Additional Information
est-ce que tu vas ?Where are you going?
De quoi est-ce que le film parle ?What is the film about?
Avec qui est-ce que tu vas au cinéma ?Who are you going to the cinema with?
Comment est-ce que vous trouvez le film ?What did you think of the film?

To Note

When the question is asking about the subject of the sentence (using qui or que), we have to add est-ce qui instead of est-ce que.

Qui est-ce qui t’accompagne au cinéma ?Who is accompanying you to the cinema?
Qu’est-ce qui t’a plu dans ce film ?What did you like about the film?

Yes-No Questions

Questions without question-words are those we can answer with yes or no. This is known as l’interrogation totale in French.

  • The subject pronoun and the conjugated verb switch positions and are connected using a hyphen. All other parts of the sentence (object, time, place, etc.) remain in the same position as in a declarative sentence.
    Tu veux acheter du pop-corn.
    Veux-tu acheter du pop-corn ?Do you want to buy popcorn?
  • If the subject is a noun, it comes before the verb in the main clause. The accompanying subject pronoun comes after the verb.
    Vont-ils au cinéma ?Are they going to the cinema?
    Les enfants vont-ils au cinéma ?Are the children going to the cinema?
  • If the conjugated verb ends with a vowel and the subject begins with a vowel, we put a t in between.
    Viendra-t-elle avec nous ?Will she come with us?
    Éric aime-t-il les films romantiques ?Does Eric like romantic films?

Question-Word Questions

Question-word questions are known as l’interrogation partielle in French. The question-word comes right at the beginning of the sentence.

  • If the question contains a preposition, this comes before the question-word.

    Avec qui vas-tu au cinéma ?With whom are you going to the cinema?
    Pour qui est le pop-corn ?Who is the popcorn for?
  • The subject and the conjugated verb switch positions (the verb comes at the beginning of the question). If the subject is a pronoun, it is connected to the verb with a hyphen.
    se trouve le cinéma ?Where is the cinema?
    Quand commence le film ?When does the film begin?
    Qui as-tu invité ?Whom have you invited?
    Qui represents the direct object here.
  • If the subject is a noun, it comes before the verb. The accompanying subject pronoun comes after the verb, they are connected using a hyphen.
    Pourquoi va-t-elle seule au cinéma ?Why is she going to the cinema alone?
    → Pourquoi Juliette va-t-elle seule au cinéma ?Why is Juliette going to the cinema alone?
    Où sont-ils allés ?Where did they go?
    → Où les enfants sont-ils allés ?Where did the children go?
  • If the question-word is que or qu’, we do not use a subject pronoun in addition to the noun like in the example above.
    Que veut voir Juliette en premier ?What does Juliette want to see first?
    Qu’a vu ton amie au cinéma ?What did your friend see at the cinema?
  • If we’re asking about the subject, the word order in the question remains the same as in a main clause, and the subject is simply replaced with the question-word qui (for people) or que (for things). In this case, the verb has to be in the 3rd person singular.
    Qui joue dans ce film ?Who is acting in this film?

Typical French question words and phrases

Question Word Translation Asking about … Examples
  • who
  • subject
  • direct object (person)
  • Qui t’a donné le livre ? – L’instituteur.Who gave you the book? – The teacher.
  • Qui avez-vous vu ? – Notre entraîneur.Who did you see? – Our trainer.
à qui
  • whom, to whom
  • indirect object (person)
  • À qui as-tu donné le livre ? – À mon amie.To whom did you give the book? – My girlfriend.
  • what
  • subject or object (not a person)
  • action
  • Qu’est-ce ? – Un téléphone portable.What’s this? – A mobile phone.
  • Qu’avez-vous vu ? – Un arc-en-ciel.What did you see? – A rainbow.
  • Que fais-tu là ? – Je lis.What are you doing? – I’m reading.
  • what
  • in a sentence without a conjugated verb
  • Quoi faire ?What to do? (What can we/I/you do?)
  • à quoi
  • de quoi
  • avec quoi
  • sur quoi
  • what
  • from where
  • with what
  • about what
  • after a preposition in questions about an inanimate object
  • À quoi penses-tu ?What are you thinking of?
  • De quoi parles-tu ?What are you talking about?
  • Avec quoi plantes-tu tes clous ?With what do you pound your nails in?
  • Sur quoi est-il monté pour réparer la lampe ?What did he stand on to fix the lamp?
  • where
  • to where
  • place (location)
  • place (direction)
  • Où est la gare ? – Tout près d’ici.Where is the train station? – Just around the corner.
  • Où allez-vous ? – Nous allons à la gare.Where are you going? – We’re going to the station.
  • from where
  • place (origin)
  • D’où viens-tu ? – Je viens d’Allemagne.Where do you come from ? – I come from Germany.
  • when
  • point in time
  • Quand avez-vous petit-déjeuné ? – A 7 heures.When did you eat breakfast? – At 7 o’clock.
  • how
  • manner
  • Comment vas-tu ? – Bien.How are you? – Good.
  • why
  • for what reason
  • reason for an action
  • purpose of an action
  • Pourquoi arrives-tu si tard ? – Parce que le train a eu du retard.Why did you arrive so late? – Because the train was delayed.
  • Pourquoi veux-tu apprendre le karaté ? – Pour me défendre.Why do you want to learn karate? – To defend myself.
quel (quelle, quels…)
  • which
  • Quelle voiture te plaît ? – La rouge.Which car do you like? – The red one.
  • which one
  • Voici deux trousses. Laquelle veux-tu ?Here are two pencil cases. Which one do you want?
  • how many, how much
  • number/amount
  • Combien de bougies as-tu sur ton gâteau ?How many candles do you have on your cake?

To Note

Lequel and quel change forms to match the gender and number of the noun they are modifying.

quel vélo – quels véloswhich bicycle - which bicycles (masc. sing./pl.)
quelle chaussure – quelles chaussureswhich shoe - which shoes (fem. sing./pl.)

Indirect Questions

Indirect questions are questions that have been reformulated as a subordinate clause within another sentence.

Tu me demandes pourquoi je pleure devant les films romantiques.You ask me why I cry at romantic films.

For a more in-depth explanation, see Indirect Questions.